10 October 2006

Between Progression and Tradition

The same way that 'karate' serves as a blanket term for a multitude of Okinawan-Japanese styles, so too does SILAT (Malaysia) denote an endless variety of fighting methods, many of which bear a striking resemblance to arts from foreign countries.

Reports of karate-like, judo-like, aikido-like, savate-like, wing chun-like, boxing-like and God-knows-what-else-like arts are mostly not exaggerated for Silat Melayu is highly adaptive and has, in my mind, accepted more diverse foreign influences than any other martial art in the world.

In Malaysia, the late Mahaguru Datuk Meor Abdul Rahman Uda Hashim's was known for his openness (see http://hulubalang-lagenda.tripod.com/draeger.html) of the reception of karate and judo-like techiques into his Silat Gayong system without losing the entire Melayuness of the art. It was essentially a progressive philosophy, something nobody before Bruce Lee even considered saying loudly in the West. That was a Melayu art with Japanese influences.

In Malaysia, the art is administrated by a few organisations including Pertubuhan Silat Seni Gayong Malaysia (PSSGM), Pertubuhan Silat Seni Pusaka Gayong Malaysia, Pertubuhan Seni Silat Gayong Warisan and PASAK in Singapore. It currently has a few offshoots and no surviving counterparts.

Another interesting example is Silat Lian Padukan (see http://www.lianpadukan.com) which is interestingly, a Yunnanese art with Melayu and Siamese influences. Unlike many kuntau masters who maintain that their art is Melayu all the while ignoring the origin of the name itself, Lian Padukan prides itself as being a Chinese adaptation of an Arab fist art with Melayu innovations.

Tracing its origins beyond Yunnan to the Middle East, it also claims to predate Wing Chun, whose origins it claims to have spawned. The modern Lian Padukan (before simply labeled Lian Yunan or Buah Pukul Mersing) which was founded by Mohammad bin Chik (Pak Mat Kedidi) incorporates into its Lian core many concepts and techniques (using the term loosely) from Tomoi (Muay Thai) and Silat.

It is adminstrated by Persatuan Seni Silat Lian Padukan and the Lian Padukan Martial Arts Academy. It has two offshoots, Lian Harimau Kumbang (defunct), Lian Golok (unofficial) and Lian Ilham. Currently, it has many contemporaries under different names and guises such as Buah Pukul Mersing, Gayang Lima, Buah Pukul Endau, Silat Awang Daik and an organisation called Persatuan Gerak Lian Malaysia.

Local (Malaysian) university students have no doubt heard of Silat Cekak (see http://silatcekak.org/ or http://www.cekakhanafi.com/, http://silatcekakhanafi.org) which claims to be an authentics Melayu art of the peninsula, which not many can dare to do. Within its syllabus lies the 'Buah Keputusan' or Conclusive Techniques (CT), said to belong to the masters of many different arts, successfully integrated into a whole by a straight-backed style.

Amongst its many claimed component arts are Gayung Fatani, Sendeng, Harimau, Terlak, Kuntau, Lintau, Kemanga and once upon a time, Spelet. These CTs are said to be able to counter all techniques that originate from these styles. Under the guidance of the late Ustaz Hanafi, these CTs have given birth to new techniques for countering other-styled attacks and agressions. It is currently administrated by two different organisations Persatuan Seni Silat Cekak Malaysia and Persatuan Seni Silat Cekak Ustaz Hanafi Malaysia and has no surviving offshoots.

Its current contemporaries are Silat Kuntau Tekpi (http://tekpi.org) (contemporary from a rumoured shared lineage from 1879) and Silat Kalimah. The forme is adminstrated by Pertubuhan Seni Silat Kuntau Tekpi Malaysia while the latter is administrated by several organisations, including Persatuan Kalimah, Persatuan Seni Silat Kalimah Yahya Said, Persatuan Seni Silat Kalimah Amin, Pertubuhan Ikatan Kalam Utama Malaysia and Persatuan Seni Silat Kalimah Panglima Tangkas.

Malaysian Silat is not as backward as many people see. The authentic versus modern debate that, ironically, still rages on in Malaysia and the rest of the MA world was essentially a moot point in the past, even the recent past. Allahyarham Datuk Meor Rahman's insistence on progressiveness was even though a thorn in the hides of many a silat teacher before, has since become accepted as the norm.

However, Datuk Meor was simply the physical vanguard of this concept, whereas more forward thinking Melayu were already doing this long before him. I understand why Datuk Meor had little resistance for in the days of yore Melayu (and still today) were a very royally-loyal race, coming under the influence of Islam immediately through the conversion of the local ruler.

Even on a smaller scale, royal vestiges in commoners with the prefix Tengku, Daeng, Megat, Teuku, Syed (the Prophet's lineage) Abang in their names strike a chord of authority and respect in their fellow commoners, even if these 'royals' were poorer than them.

Datuk Meor's vestigial princeness from the Bugis clan, his subsequent commendation from the Sultan of Perak as 'Sendo' (Mighty) and his commanding respect as a CID officer in the Singapore Police (not many Melayu back then in the White Man's professional realm!) all contributed to the acceptance of his ideas and methods.

Add that to the fact that many 'traditional' Silat masters had to bow to his superior skill when they matched him in hand to hand combat, the loser eventually forced to study Gayong. However, needfully mentioned, as public relations dictate, the names of the masters who overwhelmed Datuk Meor has been kept quite secret to this day.

My reason for comparing the three masters above: Datuk Meor Rahman (d.1991), Ustaz Hanafi (d.1986) and Pak Mat Kedidi is to illustrate the may ways Silat Melayu has held on to its Melayuness. Gayong in principle, Cekak in form and Lian Padukan in spirit. Unfortunately, it is evident that the minds of the masters are foremost in any adaptation process since after the passing of these two silat greats, Gayong and Cekak have ceased to be progressive as a whole in martial arts terms (which does not mean they are not effective).

However, Lian Padukan's philosophy of 'Padukan!' (empower, solidify, encompass) still sees new innovations based on the old under the leadership of its new guru utama, Haji Mohd Hasyim Mohd Salleh, all the while receiving the blessing of Pak Mat Kedidi who is healthy and hale to this day.

Gayong as a whole in Malaysia and Cekak which is more visually presented by the offshoot Silat Cekak Hanafi seems to have taken different directions.

Silat Cekak Hanafi has jumped head first into a corporate public relations frenzy, redesigning the uniform to a non-traditional look, using increasingly modern backing music for their demonstrations, organizing corporate dinners with local artistes performing. Image-wise, it has essentially done in 10 years what Taekwondo took 30 years to achieve in Malaysia. However much the look has changed, a board of trustees are strict in changes, if any to the silat syllabus that Ustaz Hanafi set to paper.

Gayong, however, has clung stubbornly to its past, rites and customs while very few of its masters deem to follow Datuk Meor's penchant for pressed slacks, coat and tie and a well-groomed appearance (although I am proud to have friends of the younger generation who are doing their best to present a good corporate image of Gayong).

It is true that cikgu Awang Daud has formed his Awang Daud Martial Arts Academy and is tirelessly promoting Gayong as an adaptive art, building other arts onto its core. As an art and culture, Gayong is highly recognizable, even when other arts unintentionally copy its form and look and the gait of its practitioners. While having absolutely no lineage to Gayong, these arts conform to the Gayong Norm, where demonstrations of breaking, self-torture, extremely violent weapons play are everyday culture.

Needless to say, these new values wowed the then Taekwondo, Judo, Karate-minded Melayu to begin respecting Silat again. In the 50s and 60s, Silat was mainly categorized by bunga and appearances at wedding ceremonies. Gayong changed all that and the norm is no longer the bunga, but the combat. However, I personally believe Allahyarham Datuk Meor Rahman overdid it since many Gayong practitioners now have trouble with softer, more precise movements.

That was why, the late cikgu Razali (former President of PSSGM) planned a return to more traditional forms, reintroducing music and tari. Unfortunately, he was taken too early for this to succeed. Some Gayong people are realizing this and have taken individual steps to study the more graceful village art of softness and pliability.

However, the process is not managed and Gayong recedes in popularity every year, quickly being overtaken by newer upstarts with a finger on the pulse of the youth and know what they want. For the same reason that Gayong is increasingly popular in the West, it is just a lack of it that is causing the very same art to lose its luster in its homeland.

This article was previously published in http://silatmelayu.blog/com and http://combat-journal.com

Original Article by Mohd Nadzrin Wahab

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